Council Tax, Isitfair? I don't think so
Council tax, a fair tax? I don't think so

Some Random Thoughts by Janet Kelly

It has for some considerable time been a complete mystery to me how anyone can think council tax a fair tax. For example, the two council areas with respectively the highest and lowest average council tax per dwelling are two adjacent London boroughs. How can this be? And why is it that we, in our modest home in rural(ish) Hampshire, pay more for our local services than residents in similar properties in other areas of the country? Are our pensions higher because we live here? No, of course not. Are wages and salaries higher here? No, they are not. Why do we pay more for our local services than, for example, Mr and Mrs Tony Blair and their ilk in their palatial properties in Westminster? These are just a few examples; there must be thousands illustrating just how illogical, inconsistent and monumentally unfair council tax is.

The answer to these questions, of course, has rather less to do with the efficiency or otherwise of our local councils (although many of them, despite their squeals of protest, embrace with unseemly enthusiasm any new legislation which means they can employ more staff), than with the notoriously complicated and skewed grant system and a one size fits all (which it doesn’t) banding system.

Neither the Labour Party (who can see nothing at all wrong with council tax) nor the Conservative Party (who find nothing wrong with the principle – they invented it after all - but blame the current unfairness and inconsistencies on the government’s manipulation of the grant system) have any intention of getting rid of it. The Liberal Democrats would replace it with a local income tax, but a study of their policy papers reveals a rather unhealthy interest in land value tax, not only for business premises but also for domestic properties.

But it has to be faced. Politicians must accept it. Council tax in its present form is so flawed that it needs at the very least an urgent and truly radical overhaul. It was apparent from the responses to Isitfair’s recent survey that it is generally agreed that too much is expected of council tax, and that any tax raised locally should be used to fund only things which are decided locally. There perhaps is the starting point.

There was a time not so long ago when, deservedly or undeservedly, it was apparently estate agents who were the most despised in our society. Now – aside probably from the bankers and financiers – it must surely be the politicians. So, here is their chance to improve their image. They may feel that council tax reform, in the current financial climate, is not a high priority. They should remember that for many of us it is far and away the highest entry on our bank statement and for most others it is second only to their mortgage payment.

In my household one of us yells at the TV, the other hurls the newspaper in disgust. How can it have come to this? Why is the country in such a mess? The ruling party may well have led us here, but from where I’m sitting it looks as if Her Majesty’s Official Opposition has for quite a lot of the past ten years turned rolling over and playing dead into a fine art. Maybe that’s unfair, but if they have been opposing behind the scenes they need to learn to shout it from the rooftops. And get noticed. Well, now is their chance: impress us by leading the way with some meaningful proposals for council tax reform. That’ll be a start.

Note from Christine: Representatives of Isitfair met with Eric Pickles, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in the House of Commons for an hour on 10 November last. We felt it was a worthwhile meeting. We noted with some satisfaction his scathing comments on excessively high salaries paid to council chief executives; we were informed of Conservative proposals to encourage and enable cross boundary co-operation between councils for cost cutting and efficiency purposes; and that a Conservative Green Paper on Local Government is to be published shortly. Isitfair was promised a copy. We were also warned that any major reform in the council tax system would have to be phased – it could not be otherwise.

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